Infobox short story |
name = Harrison Bergeron
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
country = USA
language = English
Dystopia, Science fiction, Political Fiction, short story
published_in = "
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" (1st release)
media_type = Print (
pub_date = 1961
followed_by = "Harrison Bergeron" is a
dystopian science fiction short storywritten by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.and first published in October, 1961. The theme of the story is egalitarianismand is set by the first line: "The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal." Originally published in " The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction", the story was re-published in the author's collection, " Welcome to the Monkey House" in 1968.
In the story, societal equality has been achieved by handicapping the most intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society down to the level of the lowest common endowment. This process is central to the society, designed so that no one will feel inferior to anyone else. This is overseen by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.
Harrison Bergeron, the protagonist of the story, has exceptional intelligence, height, strength and beauty and thus has to bear enormous handicaps. These include headphones that play distracting noises, three hundred pounds of weight strapped to his body, forty pounds of birdshot around his neck, eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, and a mask to hide his beauty. Despite these societal handicaps, he is able to invade a
TV stationand declare himself emperor. He strips himself of his handicaps, then dances with a ballerina whose handicaps he has also discarded. Both are shot dead by the brutal and relentless Handicapper General. The story is framed by an additional perspective from Bergeron's parents, who are watching the incident on TV, but because of their handicaps cannot concentrate enough to remember it.
A similar (though less developed) version of this idea appeared in Vonnegut's earlier novel, "
The Sirens of Titan".
In the 1995 made for television movie, after the handicapping devices are discovered to be ineffective against Bergeron, he is recruited to become a member of the secret unhandicapped elite who keep society running. Eventually disgusted by their duplicity, Bergeron commandeers a TV station in order to broadcast censored materials to the masses. Bergeron is eventually stopped by the government, and later forced to apologize claiming that the incident was an act. During this on-air apology, Bergeron breaks from his script and commits suicide after explaining that it was not an act. The film shows Harrison's son as he watches old clips of his father from TV. The mother of Harrison's child, a now lobotomized former member of the elite society, hears Harrison's voice as her son watches the television, and clearly recalls something of Bergeron.
Adaptations and references
*One segment of the 1972 teleplay "
Between Time and Timbuktu" was based on the story, and it was later adapted into a TV movie, "Harrison Bergeron" (1995) with Sean Astinin the title role.
*In 2005 the story was quoted by attorneys in a brief before the
Kansas Supreme Court. Vonnegut was quoted as saying that while he didn't mind the story being used in the suit, he disagreed with the lawyers' interpretation of it. [cite web | url=http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/may/05/vonnegut_lawyers_could | title=Vonnegut: Lawyers could use literary lesson | author=Scott Rothschild | date=May 5, 2005 | work=LJWorld.com | accessdate=2007-06-12]
*"Handicapper General" has entered colloquial use as a
pejorativeterm used to describe a person or institution that seeks to achieve equality of outcomeby leveling down rather than leveling up, e.g., a school system that cancels advanced classes out of a fear of elitism.
*The hardcore band Snapcase referenced the story in the song "Harrison Bergeron" on their 1997 album "Progression Through Unlearning".
*In season 1 of
Frisky Dingo, the Xtacles, when asked about " Flowers for Algernon" confuse it with Harrison Bergeron, Tom Bergeron, and finally Agamemnon.
*The story is being adapted into a short film titled [http://www.finallyequal.com/ "2081"] .
Tall poppy syndrome
*John Tierney, "When Every Child Is Good Enough," "The New York Times,"
November 21 2004
*imdb title|id=0113264|title=Harrison Bergeron
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2455/is_4_35/ai_91040892 The politics of Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" - Critical Essay] (Fall, 1998) by Darryl Hattenhauer
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